He strides into the Watergate Hotel, a small cloud of glory trailing him like an abandoned helium balloon. Pale, watery eyes blink dazedly at his new surroundings before the lids succumb to utter weariness.
A young woman approaches with her verbal offering. She has seen him in Paris, dancing, when the weather was terrible. He danced and the sun broke through.
Yes thank you, yes thank you. He sinks back into his chair, tugging furtively at his scarf. The sensuous mouth breaks into a fixed smile approximating delight.
Mikhail Baryshnikov looks more than ever like a fallen angel after an especially worldly night. Mikhail Baryshnikov also looks like he can't imagine what he's doing here, flogging his latest profession. Movie star. The very words make him wince.
"'How you feel, being movie star?' They always talk about movie star . . ." He sniffs loudly. "I'm not movie star. I never will be. I'm a dancer. I don't think I have any chance being movie star. Do you think?"
No, possibly not. It's not that he's a terrible actor in "The Turning Point", a highly slick flick in which he stars with Shirley MacLain, Anne Bancroft and a sweet young thing named Leslie Browne. It's that he doesn't have to be an actor at all. ("First I have myself," is how he describes seeing himself on celluloid to executive producer Nora Jaye). But he's doing the role for which he's suited: a fabulous Russian-born dancer. With an eye for the ladies. Speaking of which . . .
"No comment," says Baryshnikov, examining the Sunday menu with elaborate concern. "I vant drink," he announces. And he wants a BLT on toast. And he wants crepes topped with strawberry compote. And he wants several cigarettes. And also an espresso, but he must make do with normal coffee which he hates. Only when he has consumed all of this, does he says, "I have time until I get married. It happens, it happens.But I don't feel it right now. Especially -" he breaks into an elongated chuckle, "Especially right now at this brunch, i don't feel like getting married."
"I am 29," he sums up, head cocked. "I soon will be 30. I am old fellow."
Well, that certainly isn't spring chickenhood in the dance world. As the film he's in constantly points out, dancing isn't the profession to enter if you want a lengthy career.
"That's life," Baryshnikov shrugs with manifest unconcern. "Everything finished some day. Especially the dancing life. I have many exciting things to do. This is" - he smiles ironically - "not Turning Point of my life. I have a lot of things to do. Maybe one day I have no connection with dance."
He looks delighted with the prospect. He is told so. "I'm not sick of it. But I want to try new life. Not to be a dancer is already a big deal. I want to be born - How you say?"
"Yes. To have enough time to read. Many many things. If you have enough money, and I'm getting that. As I say, ballet is just a part of life. it is not total. Is not a monster holding you. Let's say it's just a nect dog."
Smiling leaps up from his chair to scrouge a cigarette from the next table. When he returns, rewarded, he asks for another bloody Mary. He is asked where he would like to live, if he could live anywhere.
Without a second's hesitation, he replies. "Leningrad. If I could - sure! It's best city in the world."
He is reminded that he certainly could - and did - live there before he defected.
"Don't provoke me into really serious conversation," he replies. "It's long story and private topics." But he also says, very earnestly, "I like America. The power of human brain and human mentality, and not power of bureaucracy.
And what about our bureaucracy?
"You shouldn't start comparing," he says quietly. "It's very honest country. America. But whole political structure is also incredible, beginning from Constitution. Since I have been here three years ago there are three Presidents. That's what I like."
No, life can't be too terrible here for a star dancer riding the crest of ballet-chich. The word is the ladies love him (the word also, he returns the compliment), and rumors of an old romance with dancer Gelsey Kirkland who was - until she feel ill -orignially to have been his co-star in the film, follow him still. Meanwhile, he is the recipient of mass passion, and the puffs under the knowing blue eyes, that suggests that none of this is displeasing to him.
"'Let's get together sometime'," he laughs raucously. "They say that sometimes in the streets: 'Let's get together sometime'. But it's not just compliments. I get rude things too. I get letters saying, 'Tickets are too expensive, you SOB'. That I should go to universities and show students my dancing. That I am a spoiled brat.
"And they have some reason. I agree with them sometimes. But they don't understand that it's not a government company, and they can't sell tickets for $2 or somebody will get bankrupt."
But how does all the adulation affect him?
He bares his teeth in mock gratitude, "Well, that's ni-i-ice . . ."
And it doesn't spoil him?
"Not at all." He stops, reconsiders shrugs.
"Well, maybe yes."
He stops again.
"Maybe no." Baryshnikov grins, delighted with himself. "Such an answer."